Wealth management firms have stumbled in recent months, as profits and client asset levels have been buffeted by volatile markets. And with few notable exceptions, advisor headcounts have also fallen at the largest brokerage firms.

Meanwhile, wirehouse and regional broker-dealers – particularly those owned by larger banks – are trying to boost their profit margins. On an earnings call with analysts, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said that his company's wealth management unit would boost its pretax profit margin from its current 20% to 25%.

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